We are perhaps days away from the end of an era for the New York Giants. There will be plenty of ink spilled and tapped keys on that particular subject, but before then John Mara and Steve Tisch need to ask themselves a watershed question.
"Who can we win with?"
A little over a year ago, after the Giants' second straight losing season, and the third without a playoff berth, John Mara was asked whether or not 2016 was a "win now or else" season. His response was that it wasn't an "unfair" sentiment.
Well, they certainly didn't win now or at any point in the season. More often the Giants found new, interesting, and agonizing ways to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Now the Giants' ownership needs to take the time for some introspection. Not much time, things in the NFL move quickly this time of year, but Mara and Tisch need to look at their organization from the top down and decide who they can win with. The onus of the decision, even if it's more spiritual than a modern, practical, and financial burden, falls to John Mara in particular. True, he and Steve Tisch are equal partners as owners of the Giants, but John is much more involved with the day to day activities. What's more, the New York Football Giants were founded by his grandfather, Tim Mara, in 1925. It's his family's business, primarily his responsibility.
The coaching and front office decisions will be made in due time, and we'll beat the topic to death before all is said and done. Instead, let's take a look at the Giants' roster and see how many building blocks, the foundation pieces, of a winning team, the Giants have. Who are the players that the Giants can win with and use to build a winning team, starting in 2016?
The Giants' roster is not devoid of talent. They have building blocks at nearly every position and level of their offense and defense. These are the guys that whoever is coaching the Giants in 2016 and beyond will need to build around to field a contender. No team has franchise players at every position. The best teams support their franchise players with "mortar" players who hold the team together, players like Rashad Jennings, Geoff Schwartz, and Robert Ayers who may not be difference makers on their own, but can play well and help you win when they have foundation pieces around them.
In fact, it might even have some hidden talent waiting to step forward that we haven't seen yet.
I listed several positions with asterisks. Those are the ones where they might have a player -- or players -- that the can build with, but who either aren't a lock for next year or we need to see more. Will Tye, for instance, might be just such a player. He has intriguing size and speed, decent hands, and the willingness to block, but he needs to develop more.
Owamagbe Odighizuwa is another player with exciting potential, but a foot injury has held him back all year. If he can adapt to a 4-3 defense and stay healthy, he could be another building block for the defense.
Devon Kennard should be a building block. He is a smart, instinctive, and athletic linebacker, easily the best on the Giants' roster and one of the best 4-3 linebackers in the league. However, his injury history means that he can't be counted on going forward either. Perhaps a change to his offseason regimen and some more physical maturity will help his durability, but he will need to prove that he can get through a complete season before he is considered a true building block.
Free agency presents another pair of wild cards in Prince Amukamara and Jason Pierre-Paul. Both are young and very talented, but it's impossible to count on them with their future in question. If both are brought back, they are players that the Giants can, and have, won with. JPP, in particular, is a player that the Giants have to make a decision about. He has been one of the most disruptive players in the NFL since coming back, but his injured hand is clearly limiting his ability to finish plays .Will that ability to be a truly complete defensive end return -- at least in part -- when the protective club comes off? You have to think that being able to grip and bend his wrist will only help his ability to finish plays.
After Sunday, John Mara will start this process, but on a much grander scale. The Giants are at a crossroads, and Mara will first need to pick a direction before they can decide who in the front office, coaching staff, and roster they can win with.
Ultimately, winning is the goal.